(There’s no Wikipedia page for this man, something I thought ridiculous, so someone suggested that I write one. I wrote a short piece with a couple of references, and it was rejected as Dr. Sullivan was deemed to be not notable enough. Wikipedia has articles on comic book characters and minor entertainers, among other things; it’s pathetic that it rejected an article on Sullivan. Here’s a short notice of Dr. Sullivan.)
Jerome L. Sullivan III, M.D., PhD (October 13, 1944 – May 3, 2013) was a physician, pathologist, and scientist known for his conception of the iron hypothesis of heart disease.
Long “puzzled” by the existence of stark differences in heart disease rates between men and women, Sullivan was not satisfied with the then current theories that sex hormone differences between men and women were responsible for the differing heart disease rates. In 1981, he published a seminal paper, Iron and the sex difference in heart disease risk.
In this paper, Sullivan argued that iron could explain the heart disease differential, because 1) iron storage diseases often feature myocardial failure; 2) men accumulate stored iron as they age; and 3) women who reach menopause gradually accumulate iron and their heart disease rates rise toward that of men.
The abstract of his paper:
Premenopausal women in affluent societies are protected from heart diseases which kill large numbers of men. The basis for this sex difference and the loss of protection with menopause is unknown. The hypothesis offered is that the greater incidence of heart diseases in men and postmenopausal women compared with the incidence in premenopausal women is due to higher levels of stored iron in these two groups. The hypothesis is supported by observations of (1) myocardial failure in iron storage diseases, (2) accumulation of stored iron with age in men, and (3) accumulation of stored iron after menopause to levels found in men. In addition, the heart diseases of affluence are rare among impoverished peoples who are often iron deficient. The depletion of iron stores by regular phlebotomy could be the experimental system for testing this hypothesis, and a preventive therapy if the hypothesis is confirmed.
Sullivan’s paper has been cited over 700 times, and set off a stark reappraisal of the role of iron in heart disease and in other pathological conditions.
He went on to write over 80 scientific papers, most of them exploring the relation between iron and disease.
According to his obituary,
Sullivan was born in southern Alabama, a descendant of one of the founding families of Dothan, a small city known for harvesting peanuts. He earned his medical degree from the University of Florida and his Ph.D. from Florida State University, and spent much of his career in Charleston, S.C.
He was always thinking, always attempting to solve scientific puzzles. The puzzle of the huge difference in heart disease rate between men and women was one worthy of him. If the iron hypothesis of heart disease comes to be generally accepted in the years to come, he will rank with other great medical minds of history.